It’s been 10 years since Brent Rayner’s father, Darreld Rayner, suddenly disappeared from Lake Cowichan.
Searches, at first intensive and then increasingly sporadic, turned up nothing, and time has passed. But the discovery, just at the Christmas season, of unidentified human remains near the town, have opened old wounds for the Rayner family.
Here, Brent Rayner, Darreld’s son, bravely talks about his father for the first time.
“Dad. I don’t even know where to start with him. He was great. I couldn’t have asked for a better father.
“He was always the first to lend a helping hand. He always took care of others before himself. Always joking around. He is the dad I aim to be. Family was number one in his eyes. He always made sure we had what we needed and did his best to give us what we wanted. Even after the mill shut down, he did what he needed too to bring home the bread.”
Darreld Rayner worked at the Youbou Mill for many years, Brent said, and Brent even thought about following in his father’s footsteps. But the mill shut down in 2001, when Brent was 12.
“I remember he would often take us through there for a tour once a year or so. Every time I walk into a wood shed I remember walking through the mill, with him introducing us to people, letting us push a button when safe and necessary. Memories I will never forget. And seriously, what 12-year-old doesn’t like pushing a button? I can still hear the saws cutting through them logs when I think about it,” Brent said.
His father and mother kept much of the financial hardship of the loss of his father’s industrial job away from the children, but the change in their circumstances still made itself felt, Brent said.
“It was definitely a change in our home financially but dad did what he had to do for the family. Even if that meant shovelling poop at the farms, mowing lawns for the elderly or other yard maintenance,” Brent said. His father even helped create a course at what was then Malaspina College.
The area where his father was last seen was very familiar to the whole family.
“One thing Dad did like to do was walk or hike in the back trails. We all had dirt bikes, too. We went out frequently. We usually stuck to the Fair Service Main area [a logging area south of the town of Lake Cowichan] because it was right on the edge of our property pretty much. Our back yard, as I still refer to it today. Pretty much if there wasn’t snow we were out walking back there, dirt biking, mushroom picking, camping, even a few easter egg hunts. We definitely spent a lot of time together back there on Fair Service, and same with my older siblings.”
Brent still vividly recalls the day his father disappeared.
“The day dad went missing, he went out for a walk with our one-year-old Jack Russell named Allie. He was gone before I left for school that morning. I came home early from school that day because I wasn’t feeling well and he still wasn’t home. I initially thought maybe he had taken the bus to his farm job because I remember just prior he had talked about doing so. Then I realized that Allie wasn’t home, either. Then I thought, maybe he was restless and tagged along with a friend to do some firewood. He had a hernia surgery before this and was still technically recovering. He had to take it easy. Dad being Dad I think he may have pushed himself a little too much than he should have.
“Anyways, I get a hold of his friend and he says he hadn’t seen or heard from him all day, but thought maybe he had gone for a walk and maybe overdone it. So that’s when our search began. I called Mom at work to inform her Dad still hadn’t returned home. I then called a friend with a truck and we began searching out at Fair Service. Mom left work early and my brother Rick arrived home shortly after while me and a few friends are out still looking.”
Rick called the RCMP and the official search began.
“SAR [Cowichan Search and Rescue] soon came out and set up base camp. Sketching our footprints, getting our stories, it started to get dark. SAR were blowing whistles and we were told to be very quiet so they could hear a response back from Dad. I soon left to go back home. Shortly after I get home there was a call in saying Allie was found running down Fair Service towards base camp. She seemed very frightened and confused and has never been the same since. Allie currently lives with me and my family — a wife and three kids.”
SAR, volunteers and family members searched for more than four days.
“They had to call off the search cause there was no leads except the coffee cup that was found the first day, just behind our house on a stump. We figure Dad finished his coffee, dropped the mug and planned to retrieve it on his way back home.”
That wasn’t the end of the private search, however. Rick continued to conduct search parties until May 27. Brent and some friends went out a few times after that. SAR also did another search a few years later, but to no avail.
“It was just too hard. All the manpower, all that ground — eight square kilometres were searched. Some areas not just twice, but three times,” Brent said.
Darreld’s disappearance has continued to haunt Brent.
“It was sure hard working at the Country Grocer for a while after this all happened. The feeling everyone is looking at you, and chatting about your personal life. I worked in produce half the time so every time the doors would open, I just hoped Dad would walk through them doors,” he said. “Every time someone walks in the main door at home, you expect to hear Dad’s hollow sound of his boots walking across the kitchen floor while he says, ’ello!?’”
Then after a decade, a possible breakthrough in late 2017. At first Brent didn’t believe this could actually be it after he got a call at his staff Christmas party, telling him the RCMP had recovered remains out on the Fair Service logging road, where the last trace of Darreld was found so long ago.
“You know I hope more than anything that these remains that have been found are the remains of my father, Darreld Rayner. I cannot deny this. If they don’t belong to Dad, I will be upset, which is to be expected, but my next hope would be for someone to finally get the closure that we have been longing for.”